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The Regina Monologues at The Bread and Roses Theatre | Review

The Regina MonologuesThe arrival of the wondrous musical SIX for a return visit to the Arts Theatre via the Edinburgh Fringe has ensured that our right royal scallywag Henry VIII and his plethora of wives are currently centre stage in the theatre-going public’s consciousness. But back in 2004, writers Rebecca Russell and Jenny Wafer got there first with The Regina Monologues – not a musical but an in-depth exploration of the hopes, desires, frustrations and motivations of The Wives. In their inaugural production, She Wolves Theatre Company’s revival of the play at the Bread and Roses Theatre is a delightful tour around the complex minds of wannabe Tudor royals as they might appear in today’s modern context. It works. And it’s fun.

We start with Cathy (Catherine of Aragon) who gets Henry when he’s young and golden. Megan Morvan cleverly draws us into her world of dating and San Miguel and… er,… guys who arrive from Luton. She’s bright and cheeky and gullible and Morvan steadily builds a defensive wall of quiet pathos as she attempts to come to terms with her fate, the fate of not being able to give Henry what he wants. She is, of course, usurped by husband-stealer Annie, (Anne Boleyn) played with pouty panache by Nomi Bailey, a kind of super-nova party animal who sparkles – briefly – captures a lustful heart – briefly – then fades quickly and dies on the altar of unfulfilled dreams and broken hearts: Bailey has an uncanny knack of evincing dislike and pity in equal measure.

Martha Jamal is the stoic and simplistic Jane (Jane Seymour) who fancies being reincarnated as a Wombat as she deals with the pain and desperation of childbirth. She’s snared the prey but is not going to live to tell the tale and it’s a subtle and engaging performance by Jamal.

In many ways, the most demanding role is that of Anna (Anne of Cleeves) who is described in the publicity as “ugly”. Let’s get one thing clear: Molly Marr-Johnson could never in a month of date-nights be described as ugly but in a consummate performance as Anna she manages to get across that indecipherable “ugliness” of the perennial wallflower who constantly gets f*cked-over without ever getting laid. All power to Marr-Johnson who is very
funny and who surely must have thought: “Seriously? You want to cast me as the ugly wife?”

Emily Brown breezes into the action as Katie (Catherine Howard), the fun-loving, teenage goodtime girl who’s keen to help and support her father in visiting “uncle” Henry. The mood changes quickly, though, as she realises that Henry wants more than to see her splashing about in his pool and Brown expertly captures the agonising dilemma of helping her bankrupt father and giving her “uncle” what he wants. Brown skilfully gets us feeling queasy about this and then gob-smacks us with the full horror of what she has to do. Frightening. And powerful by Brown.

Then we come to the survivor, the patient nurse who’s playing the long game. Helena Simpson is pragmatism on stilts as Katherine (Catherine Parr) as she puts up with the unsavoury aspects of an ageing spouse, absorbs the step-child irritations and waits patiently with her eye fixed firmly on the prize. Simpson is strident and strong, hard-nosed and canny, insouciant and serene: lovely performance!

The show is directed by the company – something that doesn’t always work as a single guiding vision is often more productive – but it definitely does in this case. The smart interchanges of the script are well handled in the
direction and we have a clear and absorbing show with the humour and the tragedy brought out convincingly. Effective lighting (Emily Pearce) helps, particularly for the scene changes, as does Asha Cornelia Cluer’s choreography. As a series of soliloquies though, it lacks real dramatic action and it would be good to see some interplay between the characters. OK, I know what you’re going to say: the clue is in the title. But particularly with these very strong actors we would love to see some confrontations between the characters that would take the show to a different level.

Whilst the show doesn’t have the chutzpah-pazazz of SIX, the Regina Monologues – and She Wolves’ production – is an intriguing exploration of Henry’s wives in the context of “modern women”. As such though it now seems a little dated with references to, say, Esther Rantzen not having the relevance they once did over a decade ago and the inevitable dick jokes feeling out-moded, with the ground-hog-day-like comparison of everything being “as big as…” (Gibraltar, Warwickshire, a planet et al) becoming a tad tiresome. Also, technology’s a bitch in this day and age with the unrelenting pace of change – the wives use smartphones but the dating scenes revolve around those condescendingly twee internet dating sites with not a Tinder swipe-right in sight. And surely a play and company with such a laudable feminist perspective ought to be re-framing the teenage Katie story against the now all-pervading backdrop of the #MeToo movement to make it fully relevant to modern audiences.

Those minor gripes aside, this is an intelligent and provocative show that will entertain audiences and make them laugh and think. It runs until 2nd February at the friendly bijou Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham and would be well worth a trip down the Northern Line. I’ll be looking forward to She Wolves next projects – a company that’s well worth keeping an eye on.

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

Hag, Witch, Angel, Ugly, Whore, Nurse: Queens. Three Catherines, two Annes, and a Jane. Six women with one thing in common – marriage to a man called Henry – have passed into historical legend. Their lives are both separate and intertwined as they tell their stories from a room in which they have all once lived. The plight of those sixteenth-century women is brought to life by She Wolves Theatre Company in their debut performance. This intimate yet explosive production reinvents the lives of these extraordinary women and explores how their experiences are still relevant five hundred years on.

Cast
Cathy – Megan Morvan
Annie – Nomi Bailey
Jane – Martha Jamal
Anna – Molly Marr-Johnson
Katie – Emily Brown
Katherine – Helena Simpson

Directors & Producers – Nomi Bailey, Emily Brown, Martha Jamal, Molly Marr-Johnson, Megan Morvan and Helena Simpson
Production manager – Helena Simpson

The Wolves Theatre Company presents
The Regina Monologues
by Rebecca Russell and Jenny Wafer

Booking to 2nd February 2019
Running time: 60minutes
https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk

Author

  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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1 thought on “The Regina Monologues at The Bread and Roses Theatre | Review”

  1. I thought it was a fabulous opening performance by a fledgling theatre company. Strong performances from all 6 Queens. A theatre company to watch – definitely going places…

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